Interview with Jim Posniewski - Tai Chi

Interview with Jim Posniewski - Tai Chi CMAA is fortunate to have inherited long time TaiChi, and Kungfu practitioners from Shifu Jiang Jianye.  Some have been training for 10, 15 years or even longer with him.  I have always kept my cup empty and consider myself lucky to have them as friends who genuinely enjoy sharing their knowledge which they have acquired throughout years of devoted study.

Previously I have conducted interviews with Scott Beiter and Sanda Balint.  Students of Shifu Jiang Jianye and Lu Yuzhi who I remember since the day I first began studying with Shifu about 15 years ago.

Another long time student of Shifu’s (and Shimu’s) is Jim Posniewski.  He has continued to share his wealth of knowledge with me for which I am very grateful.  After sharing so many great tips, thoughts, and advice on Chinese martial arts with me, I thought it would be great if there was a way for him to share some knowledge with ALL of CMAA which is why I asked to speak with him. So, without further ado, please enjoy the interview:

L: How long have you practiced martial arts?  Chinese Martial Arts?

J: I have been studying and practicing Taijiquan and Qigong for more than 20 years

L: How and why did you begin studying?

J: I was looking for a way to exercise for fitness and flexibility that was easier on my body than running.  I started with a class at the local YMCA that was taught by one of Shifu Jiang's students.

L: Studying with Shifu Jiang Jianye for so long, what has your relationship been like?  Its rare to find a student who stays with one teacher for so long, why have you decided to do so?

J: It doesn't seem like a long time as it is happening, time just seems to accumulate. My wife Shelley and I started together, and that helped us both stay with it.

Shifu Jiang has such a vast repertoire of forms, that there was always something new happening.  I have learned and forgotten almost as many forms as I now continue to practice.  He also always encouraged study with other teachers and masters, inviting many to his studio for seminars and workshops.

L: What have been the most significant influences in your study/practice?

J: Not long after I started classes at the studio on Colvin Avenue, Shifu Jiang asked me to be an assistant to his wife Lu Yuzhi at her classes in Clifton Park.  I am sure that I benefited much more from this, than any assistance I provided to Laoshi Lu at her classes.  I was very fortunate to have this opportunity to learn from Laoshi Lu, since she did not teach many Taijiquan classes at the studio.

I also started teaching beginner Taijiquan classes for Shifu Jiang at some of the local high schools.  Having to teach a form makes you learn more about it.  You don't realize how little you know until you try to explain it to someone else.

Master Jou Tsung Hwa's Tai Chi Farm and his annual Zhang San Feng Festival introduced us to many excellent teachers and masters of Taijiquan and Qigong. Although one or two hours of seminar is not the same as long term study with a master, I could come away from every workshop with something new to add to my practice of Taiji or Qigong, and we went to a lot of them.

Annual seminars with Master Chen Zhenglei.

I started attending Master Chen Zhenglei's seminars when he came to Shifu Jiang's studio.  I continue to attend whenever he is in the area.  Studying with a Chen style master of his caliber is a unique experience and has given me a great appreciation and feel for Chen style Taijiquan

L: Do you have any practice tips?

J: The original practice tip that I got from my first teacher was:

When you learn a new form in class, go home and repeat the form yourself at least three times.  You don't realize how much you rely on just following others in class until you try to do it yourself with no one else to watch.

Do you have any suggested “study material”(influential books, videos, websites, blogs etc.)?

I have used a lot of study materials.  I like to see things written down, or in labeled drawings.

A few things that I could recommend are:

Any of Shifu Jiang's Videos – They are Great supplements when we are learning a form in class, or for forms you want to learn but aren't currently being taught.

The Dao of Taijiquan by Master Jou, Tsung Hwa (Intended originally as a college textbook for a course in Taijiquan. It's great to have met and known the author)

The Tai Chi Book by Robert Chuckrow Written by a student of Cheng Man-ch'ing who happens to be a Ph. D. physicist.  An explanation of the details of taijiquan principles from a more western scientific perspective.

Simplified Tai Chi Chuan 24 & 48 Postures with Martial Applications by Master Liang, Shou-Yu & Wu, Wen-Ching

I used this book when first learning 24 form.  It is a great introduction to Taijiquan forms for those like me that like to see it written down and well described.

Chronicles of Tao The Secret Life of a Taoist Master by Deng Ming-Dao A biography that reads like a novel. Not really a Taiji book, but anyone interested in Taijiquan would likely enjoy it.  The Taoist master of the book is actually still alive living in New York.

L: What are your feelings about Taichi as a martial art?  A healing art?

J: Most people will never utilize Taijiquan for a martial application.  Thankfully, most of us will never (again?) be in an actual physical fight.  But treating Taiji forms as a martial arts practice, and understanding the martial applications can greatly improve your Taiji performance and the effectiveness of its health benefits.

L: What are your feelings about “modern Taichi”? Simplified routines and competition routines?

J: I guess I am somewhat a traditionalist, and I like the longer traditional forms, but the shorter “simplified” forms are a good introduction, and are almost a must for beginners.  In most cases, the simplified forms are just shorter, fewer forms and fewer repeats.  The actual forms are not necessarily simplified in any way.  I consider the very short forms (e.g., 10 form and 16 form) as transitional beginner forms.  After a short time the student moves on to longer more complete forms.

Competition forms (with a couple of exceptions noted below) have little appeal to me.  They are in general longer than the simplified routines, but shorter than the traditional forms, and designed with some intentionally higher difficulty for the competitors to demonstrate their skills.  Most of these routines provide little benefit to me over traditional routines.

Even more recently, “modern” competition routines have started to incorporate very difficult acrobatic forms, kind of a mixture of Taiji and Wushu.  I find it difficult to even classify these routines as Taijiquan.  They are more acrobatic Wushu with Taiji forms in between to rest.

L: What are your personal favorite routines and why?

J: Personal Favorites

Chen Style Old Frame First Routine (Laojia Yi Lu) - A traditional form that establishes all the basics of Chen style without the extra flourishes and more elaborate transitions of Chen New Frame.  Chen style is more obviously martial than other Taiji styles, with deep stances and a mixture of fast and slow movements.

42 Taijiquan (Competition Routine) - This competition routine incorporates forms and movements from five major Taiji styles (Chen, Yang, Wu, Wu-Hao, and Sun).  Although it is a competition routine, all of the movements and forms are accessible to most Taijiquan practitioners.  The sequence is well designed, without any awkward transitions or direction changes.  It just feels better than the similar “48 Form” that also incorporates forms from the “five families”.

42 Taiji Jian (Sword Competition Routine) - This routine is also a competition routine, but like the 42 Taijiquan routine, all of it's forms can be reasonably performed by average practitioners.  The individual forms and the sequence seem more polished than the “32 Taiji sword form” that is usually taught first to beginners.

Traditional Yang Style (108 Form) – A very long form with many repeats, but done more slowly than Chen style.  The slower more relaxed pace of Yang style allows you to think more about the forms as you’re doing them.

L:What are your recommendations for those interested in studying (taichi/kungfu)?

J: There is much to learn in the study of Taijiquan and Qigong.  You can take it as far as you personally want.  Follow your own interests, read books, go to workshops and seminars, and ask lots of questions.

L: Please feel free to write about as much or as little about any particular question or area of taiji/kungfu that interests you.

J: I was surprised at how much is covered by your few questions, and also surprised about how much more could be said.  However, I think this is already longer than most will care to read, so I think it is best to stop now.

Thanks Jim!